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I've got several lines of thought I'm looking to trace out, but I'm going to start with what's a relatively minor point, one that allows me to get a little snark out of the way. The listening that Booth advocates is largely undifferentiated in RoR--in other words, there's little account here of the fact that, even in deeply committed listening, we bump against what Burke (following Veblen) calls our "trained incapacities." A kinder way of describing this phenomenon is to say that our radar is more alert to some things than to others.

As for me, well, my radar is always tuned to pick up references to technology, and they are few enough in Booth's book. The first I saw:

Various studies have shown that the average child spends almost as much time watching TV as attending classes. Many spend additional hours receiving half-baked or utterly false information on the Internet. And even among those who finally get hooked into serious reading, too many are barraged with books and articles and pamphlets proclaiming outrageous doctrines and "confirming" hate-ridden myths, with no internal hint of how the assertions might be challenged (96-97).

This is from a section titled "Miseducation Outside the Classroom." And from "Conscious, Deliberate Miseducation,"

Mammon's skill in destroying objectivity is especially clear in the case of CNN...The present competition for ratings between FoxNews and CNN has driven each to "take sides" while radically changing their formats. They now exhibit a much flashier, hipper, more Internet-like style, in order to capture a larger audience. Their objectivity in reporting has certainly declined...(137-138).

This is a minor snark, and it won't be my only contribution. Promise. But in a book that advocates listening, what I see hear is a pattern of treating the word "Internet" as a replacement for the dismissive version of "rhetoric." In this model, the Internet is a vastly inferior version of the library, without standards, without quality control, without ethics, etc. Every time the word appears, I wonder that "Internettery" isn't a synonym for rhetrickery--that's certainly the way it comes across.

Now, I'm fully willing to accept that this is, in part, a generational thing. But I get a lot of good information out here, and a lot more besides. Is there crap? You betcha. Is it universal? Not even close. But it also deserves a heck of a lot better than it gets in RoR.

Without the Internet, I couldn't point you to Jay Rosen, whose blog will tell you that the destruction of objectivity began well before the hip, flashy Internet came a-calling. I can't point you to David Weinberger, who will explain how "the Web, a world of pure connection, free of the arbitrary constraints of matter, distance and time, is showing us who we are - and is undoing some of our deepest misunderstandings about what it means to be human in the real world." If rhetoric is, at its best, the art of removing misunderstanding, then the Internet as a rhetorical site has at least as much potential for doing so as any other medium. In Small Pieces Loosely Joined, Weinberger writes that words are the stuff of the Web, and that means that rhetoric is, too. Without the Internet, I'd have far fewer examples of people listening to each other, and to the culture at large. Sure, there's WR out here, and BR, but there's also plenty of the best kind of LR, and I have yet to see the proof that the ratios among them are any more skewed towards misunderstanding online than they are offline.

So, snarky as it may be for me to say this, I have to work a little harder to take this book seriously, when it treats the Internet so dismissively.

I'll get over it, of course. This book isn't the first and won't be the last to ignore the Internet, or to treat it like the spastic black sheep of the information age. And I'll be back, with some comments that are a little more direct in their address of RoR.

That's all, for the moment.